Tax return deadline 2020: How to file an extension, estimate returns and more


Sorry, taxes are due July 15 — unless you file for an extension.

Angela Lang/CNET

Whether you like it or not, today, July 15, is Tax Day — the date when your 2019 taxes are due. This year, the deadline falls three months later than usual, after the IRS extended the date from April 15 to July 15 in March as a result of the  coronavirus pandemic and its immediate hit to the US economy

Now that your tax return deadline is really, really, here, we have answers to your many questions, including how to file an extension, what time taxes are actually due today (there’s a cutoff), how to calculate your tax refund and what changes are in place for Tax Day 2020. Read on for more details and, as always, be aware that there are many common — and dangerous — tax scams to avoid.

Read more: Stimulus check 2: When could it arrive? We break down the dates to know

The last day to file taxes is today, Wednesday, July 15

For most people in the US, taxes for calendar year 2019 are officially due now. You must file electronically sometime on this date — or else your mailed-in filing must be postmarked on July 15 — to make the cutoff.

According to the IRS, the extension applies to the paperwork, not any money you owe. At the very least, what you expect to owe must be paid by today to avoid being charged extra penalties and interest, but you have until Oct. 15 to actually file your tax return online or in the mail. More on that below.

What happens if I miss the deadline?

The failure-to-file penalty is $300 in 2020. (The Taxpayer First Act of 2019 will increase this penalty to $330 in 2021.) To avoid paying it, you should plan to e-file or postmark your individual tax return by midnight on July 15. In the future, one the many advantages of filing early — preventing a hacker from filing fraudulently on your behalf — is reason enough to get your taxes done as soon as possible.

How do I request an extension?

The IRS usually allows taxpayers to file for an extension. This year, according to the instructions on Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File US Individual Income Tax Return), taxpayers can apply for an extra three months to file, making Oct. 15 the due date. 

Which tax preparation apps can I use?

Tax apps are numerous, but we’ve compiled some of the most reliable tax preparation apps and services here. Keep reading below for even more details on how to file taxes online.

What changes for 2019 taxes do I need to know about?

For tax year 2019, the IRS has tweaked individual income tax brackets, adjusting them for inflation. And there are new regulations involving the standard deduction, 401(k) plans and health savings accounts that may affect how you prepare your taxes. The major changes include: 

  • The standard deduction is now $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. (Learn more.) 
  • The 401(k) contribution limit has increased to $19,000 but the catch-up limit — for folks 50 and over — remains $6,000. (Learn more.)
  • The contribution limit for health savings accounts has increased to $3,500 for self-only coverage and $7,000 for families. (Learn more.)
  • The “individual mandate penalty” — previously charged to people who didn’t have health insurance — has now been eliminated.(Learn more.)

Last year, the IRS was closed due to a government shutdown. This year, many government agencies have closed their doors or are working at severely reduced capacity. Many taxpayers will need to rely on online resources to help them navigate the filing process. The IRS published a 12-page PDF covering the major changes that took effect last year and there are answers to many questions on the IRS website. 

There are also plenty of companies that would love to help you prepare your taxes, for a fee of course. (Depending on your annual income, you may be eligible for free preparation support resources, though they’re harder to find than they should be.) CNET’s Personal Finance crew has prepared a wealth of tax resources to help you, including a series of articles covering the 2020 tax season from every angle: 


Your tax filings must be postmarked by July 15.

Angela Lang/CNET

How do I file my taxes online?

CNET has rounded up the best tax software for 2020 featuring vendors such as TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxSlayer. These companies can make the tax filing process — from reporting your taxable income or self-employed income, setting up direct deposit and going through your itemized deductions — much easier.

Read more: The best tax software for 2020

That noted, the IRS provides a list of free online tax prep software offered by many of those same providers. The only catch: it’s free only if you qualify to use a 1040EZ form. That means your tax situation needs to be relatively simple. You can use it if you make less than $100,000 annually, you don’t itemize deductions and you don’t own a business.

Of course, if you want to itemize deductions or have a more complex financial situation — you run a business, have investments or generate rental income — you’ll have to pay for a higher tier of service, which can run a couple hundred dollars. Still, for most people, even the most deluxe online package is far less expensive than hiring an authorized tax pro. And if you prefer to keep it old-school, the IRS’s online tax forms handle some but not all of the calculations for you and still allow you to e-file or print and mail.


A number of online tax software providers will help you file for free.


Read: TurboTax is making you hunt for its free tax filing service, says ProPublica

When do I need to file my state taxes?

This year, most states have extended their tax return deadlines to today, July 15. And a couple of states have pushed them out even further; Hawaii’s state tax deadline is July 20 and Iowa’s is July 31. Missouri’s state tax deadline was May 15. 

Can I file my state taxes online?

Many states have their own online tax platforms, which are usually free to use. TurboTax, H&R Block and other online tax tools can also help you file your state return and can import most of the information from a federal return they’ve already prepared, though they usually charge a fee. Check out CNET’s comparison of tax software and services to see which is best for you.


When will I get my tax refund?

How quickly you can expect to see your refund depends on how you file, when you file and which payment method you choose. Filing online and filing earlier usually results in faster processing. In a normal year, the typical turnaround ranges from one to three weeks, but given the extreme abnormality of 2020, all bets are off.

Selecting direct deposit as the payment method so the IRS will deposit your refund directly into your bank account usually makes for the fastest turnaround. An e-Collect direct deposit, where your tax preparer’s fee is deducted from your refund, may add a few more days to your wait. A paper check may take several weeks to arrive.

Here’s how to estimate your tax refund and ways you might want to invest it if that’s your plan.

Where do I send my taxes?

If you file online, there’s nothing to print out or mail but we recommend you save an electronic copy for your records regardless. This could be especially useful if a second stimulus check passes and you need to check on your qualifications. For the first round of check, your eligibility was based off your tax returns.

Otherwise, you’ll need to mail your return to the IRS. The specific mailing address depends on which tax form you use and which state you live in. The IRS has published the complete list here.

It’s vital that you send your return to the right IRS office. Getting it wrong can have dire consequences and may result in a penalty or fine.

How do I send the IRS my tax payment?

If you’re mailing your tax payment, you can elect to have the funds withdrawn directly from your bank account or include a personal check or money order. If you choose the latter, make it payable to “US Treasury” and include your name, address, phone number, Social Security number or ITIN (Individual Tax ID Number). Under no circumstances should you mail cash to the IRS.

Read moreHow to handle cryptocurrency on your taxes

How do I check the status of my refund?

The IRS website features a handy web-based tool that lets you check the status of your refund and there’s also a mobile app, IRS2Go. You can usually access your refund status about 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after mailing in a return. To check your status, you’ll need to provide your Social Security number or ITIN, filing status and the exact amount of your refund. If your status is “received,” the IRS has your return and is processing it. “Approved” means that your refund is on its way.

I have questions about my taxes. Can I call the IRS?

There are numerous ways to contact the IRS. The agency seems to have suspended its live chat for the time being, but you can still submit questions through its online form. If you prefer to talk to a person, the IRS maintains a number of dedicated phone lines that are open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time). Individuals can call 800-829-1040 and businesses can call 800-829-4933. 

And there’s always the Interactive Tax Assistant — an online tool that provides answers to a number of tax law questions. It can determine if a type of income is taxable, if you’re eligible to claim certain credits and whether you can deduct expenses on your tax return. It also provides answers for general questions, such as determining your filing status, whether you can claim dependents, if you even have to file a tax return, etc.

Where can I find help with my taxes?

There are plenty of online applications and services and you can check out CNET’s comparison of them

The IRS usually offers free tax prep help through a number of programs. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, for example, typically helps people who make less than $54,000, have disabilities or have limited facility with English. And the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program specializes in tax issues that affect people who are 60 or older. Due to COVID-19, however, many VITA sites — and all TCE sites — have been closed. For now, the IRS’ International Taxpayer Service Call Center remains available at 267-941-1000, Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET.

Read moreHow to deduct your home office without an audit

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